St. John Chrysostom, Early Father, Doctor, and Bishop of the Church
Today, September 13, is the memorial of St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407), one of the most famous Fathers, Doctors, and bishops of the Catholic Church. Known to be among the most prominent orators of his time, St. Chrysostom suffered much for his stances as a Catholic bishop, from both secular authorities and from some within the Church.
Born in Antioch, he studied law as a young man, but then went off to the mountains and became a hermit for several years. In 381, he became a deacon and was later ordained as a priest and served in his native city of Antioch. It was there that his powerful and eloquent oratory earned him the title “Chrysostom” (golden-mouthed). His homilies ranged from the Gospels to personal conversion to the moral reformation of society. He delivered 88 sermons alone on the Gospel of St. John.
He was offered the position of Bishop of Constantinople (the imperial capital), which he initially declined, but finally accepted in 398. John tried to avoid politics as he exercised his pastoral duties, but often became involved in controversy. His initial popularity faded as his reforms troubled many priests, monastic leaders and secular leaders. His sermons were frequently critical of the rich and powerful, which made him numerous enemies. He also prevented the sale of clerical offices and called for fidelity in marriage, which further alienated the aristocracy.
In 403 John’s enemies, led by the empress and the bishop of Alexandria, charged him with heresy and misdeeds. The emperor sent him into temporary exile, but soon recalled him. Riots forced the authorities to bring him back; however, John was exiled permanently, first to Armenia, then to Spain, where he died on September 14, 407 while being forced to march in the hot sun. His last words were, “Glory to God for all things.”
He is honored as a Doctor of the Eucharist for his eloquent witness to the Real Presence. With St. Athanasius, St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil, he forms the group of the four great Doctors of the Eastern Church.
My Favorite Quotes of St. John Chrysostom
‘The rich man is not one who is in possession of much, but one who gives much.”
“The highest point of philosophy is to be both wise and simple; this is the angelic life.”
“Chastity uplifts sex to its true nobility and dignity. It gives sex its true beauty and glory. Chastity enables us, through our sexuality, to give glory to Christ in our body.”
“As water extinguishes fire, so prayer extinguishes the heat of the passions.”
“Charity is the scope of all God’s commands.”
“Feeding the hungry is a greater work than raising the dead.”
Riches are not forbidden . . . but the pride of them is.
“The desire to rule is the mother of heresies.”
“Prayer should be the means by which I, at all times, receive all that I need, and, for this reason, be my daily refuge, my daily consolation, my daily joy, my source of rich and inexhaustible joy in life.”
We should not bear it with bad grace if the answer to our prayer is long delayed. Rather let us because of this show great patience and resignation. For He delays for this reason: that we may offer Him a fitting occasion of honoring us through His divine providence. Whether, therefore, we receive what we ask for, or do not receive it, let us still continue steadfast in prayer. For to fail in obtaining the desires of our heart, when God so wills it, is not worse than to receive it ; for we know not as He does, what is profitable to us.
“In the matter of piety, poverty serves us better than wealth, and work better than idleness, especially since wealth becomes an obstacle even for those who do not devote themselves to it. Yet, when we must put aside our wrath, quench our envy, soften our anger, offer our prayers, and show a disposition which is reasonable, mild, kindly, and loving, how could poverty stand in our way? For we accomplish these things not by spending money but by making the correct choice. Almsgiving above all else requires money, but even this shines with a brighter luster when the alms are given from our poverty. The widow who paid in the two mites was poorer than any human, but she outdid them all.”
“It is not the same thing for one who is troubled in his heart by misfortune and distress not to help his neighbor, as for one who enjoys such happiness and continuous good fortune to neglect others who are wasting away with hunger, to lock up his heart, and not to be made more generous by his own joy. For you surely know this, that even if we are the most savage of men, we usually are made more gentle and kindly by good fortune.”
“You carry your snare everywhere and spread your nets in all places. You allege that you never invited others to sin. You did not indeed, by your words, but you have done so by your dress and your deportment. … When you have made another sin in his heart, how can you be innocent? Tell me, whom does this world condemn? Whom do judges punish? Those who drink poison or those who prepare it and administer the fatal potion? You have prepared the abominable cup, you have given the death dealing drink, and you are more criminal than are those who poison the body; you murder not the body but the soul. And it is not to enemies you do this, nor are you urged on by any imaginary necessity , nor provoked by injury , but out of foolish vanity and pride.”
The grace of the Holy Spirit . . . has been poured out abundantly and has transformed the whole world into heaven; not by changing of natures, but by correcting of wills. For it found a tax gatherer and transformed him into an evangelist; it found a persecutor and made him into an apostle; it found a robber and conducted him to Paradise; it found a prostitute and rendered her equal to virgins; it found the learned and showed them the gospels. . . .’ A prostitute–equal to virgins! That’s me. That’s me today. A miracle!”
“When an archer desires to shoot his arrows successfully, he first takes great pains over his posture and aligns himself accurately with his mark. It should be the same for you who are about to shoot the head of the wicked devil. Let us be concerned first for the good order of sensations and then for the good posture of inner thoughts.”
“Even if we have thousands of acts of great virtue to our credit, our confidence in being heard must be based on God’s mercy and His love for men. Even if we stand at the very summit of virtue, it is by mercy that we shall be saved.”
“Let us accustom ourselves to eat only enough to live, not enough to be distracted and weighed down. For we were not born , we do not live, in order to eat and drink; but we eat in order to live. At the beginning life was not made for eating, but eating for life.”
“Why do you beat the air and run in vain? Every occupation has a purpose, obviously. Tell me then, what is the purpose of all the activity of the world? Answer, I challenge you! It is vanity of vanity: all is vanity.”
“You envy the opportunity of the woman who touched the vestments of Jesus, of the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears, of the women of Galilee who had the happiness of following Him in His pilgrimages, of the Apostles and disciples who conversed with Him familiarly, of the people of the time who listened to the words of grace and salvation which came forth from His lips. You call happy those who saw Him…But, come to the alter and you will see Him, you will touch Him, you will give to Him holy kisses, you will wash Him with your tears, you will carry Him within you like Mary Most Holy.”
~ St. John Chrysostom
Patron: preachers, speakers, epilepsy
Symbols: Beehive; chalice on Bible; white dove; scroll or book; pen and inkhorn; bishop’s mitre.